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Dinner is served beneath the oaks.

Our gracious hosts and ManeGait founders Bill Darling, Landon Schneider, Priscilla Darling and Zach Schneider

Last Friday evening, I joined Bill and Priscilla Darling and a small party of fifty for the ManeGait Gala Donor Dinner. The Darlings, along with their daughter and son-in-law, Landon and Zach Schneider, hosted top donors, board and committee members at their lovely home in McKinney, just north of the ManeGait property.

A  long, winding driveway led me across a bridge and past a small pond to the Darling home where I was welcomed by twinkling Edison bulbs threaded throughout a small grove of oak trees adjacent to the house.  There in the woods, where evening sunlight dappled a forest floor of dried leaves, the festivities commenced. Wooden tables were set with natural linen runners, soft hydrangeas and moss-embellished lanterns. Flickering ivory candles and mason jar water glasses complemented the elegant tablescape by providing the perfect amount of rusticity. Spanish guitar music was strummed by a lone musician and a pair of horses grazed leisurely in the nearby pasture. The setting could not have been more picturesque.

Brad and Gabby Smith

Chef Jason Martin of 360° Restaurant at Gentle Creek Country Club prepared the evening’s fare. Appetizers consisted of black pepper gnocchi, Texas toast with warm brie and bacon jam, and roasted corn salad with a chili-rubbed prawn shooter. After a blessing was offered by the hostess, guests found their seats and a Farmer’s Tomato Salad: heirloom Texas tomatoes, crisp prosciutto, Marconi almonds and garlic chips dressed in a white balsamic dill vinaigrette. Two choices of entrees were offered: filet mignon and pan seared seabass, charred broccolini, purple marble potatoes, wild mushrooms with lemon-thyme Aoili OR Cartermere Farms roasted ½ of chicken with warm white beans, French beans, roasted corn salad, goat cheese emulsion, basil, white wine. Dessert could be classified as edible art; strawberry shortcake, pink peppercorn streusel and vanilla cream were hidden in a chocolate sphere that melted away and exposed the confection when hot Passion Fruit Carmel was poured on top. Truly no words for Chef Jason’s creativity, not to mention the marriage of flavors.

Dinner is served beneath the oaks.

Black pepper gnocchi

Texas toast with brie and tomato jam

Land and Sea

Although the setting and food were exquisite, the loveliest part of the evening was hearing Executive Director, Tricia Nelson, and Chief Development Officer, Susan Hansen, inform guests of the great strides ManeGait is taking to further improve the facility. Most impressively, ManeGait acquired a Dressage Equestrian Simulator. This sixty thousand dollar investment is one of five in the entire United States…and it lives right here in McKinney, Texas! The Dressage Equestrian Simulator is designed for people of all abilities and has been used by many other equine therapy centers to serve people with disabilities. The simulator replicates the size and feel of riding a live horse. It responds to the rider’s physical commands and simulates the rhythmic motion of walking, trotting and cantering. The Dressage Simulator also includes an interactive computer interface, widescreen display monitor, and saddle sensors to replicate the riding experience and provide additional controls for instructors. **NOTE: The new “horse” has not yet been named, but if you have any suggestions, leave them in the comments and I’ll be sure to pass them on. I’m voting for DESi…See what I did there? 🙂

Paul and Jennifer Riddle

Matt and Alyson Booth

Tabitha Armstrong, Sara and Scott Snellings

Marie and Mike Childs, Earl Bellamy, Priscilla Darling and Lynn Newman

Jonathan and Allison Booth

Marie and Mike Childs, Executive Director of Development Susan Hansen

Dinner beneath the oaks is not a meal I will soon forget, and I am so grateful to have been included. Thank you to Bill, Pris, Zach and Landon for such a beautiful evening.

With my beautiful friend, Landon Schneider

ManeGait was founded in 2007 by the Darling Family and is a PATH Premier Accredited Equine Center located on fourteen acres right here in McKinney. Through therapeutic horsemanship, ManeGait provides 150 lessons each week to adults and children with physical, emotional, cognitive, sensory and behavioral disabilities. For more information or information on how to donate, please visit the ManeGait website:

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